Song, by Toad

Archive for February, 2010

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Eluvium – Similes

Eluvium - Similes[Matthew who helps out with the Toad Sessions and all the work which needs doing for the label has kindly written this week’s Sunday Supplement.  I think he’s angry about something – let the rage out Matthew, let it out!]

Similes is Matthew Robert Cooper’s fifth album under the Eluvium title and it’s just, er, amazing. I personally think this is the best thing he’s done so far in his career. He recorded an album under his full name entitled Miniatures back in ’08 which was just beautiful, and he’s also part of Concert Silence which is purely unedited improvisational work with his friend Charles Buckingham – it can be downloaded for free here – I couldn’t recommend it higher. He’s also doing the score for the film ‘Some Days Are Better Than Others’, which looks really intriguing.

The first thing I think I should talk about is the new direction of the album and the sort of mixed response it seems to be getting from a lot of folk. Previously Cooper’s work hasn’t featured any vocals at all, typically just ambient guitar, synth instruments and piano pieces. I think this came as a bit of a shock looking at some of the ‘shouts’ from people on Last.fm and such. I think it’s really fucking pathetic, to be honest. I hate ‘fans’ in most cases, but these fuckers are just too much. I don’t usually give much attention to comments on ‘community’ type things such as youtube and Last.fm etc, because it mostly just fucks me off and depresses me – can’t really be doing with it.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the vocals. Well fuck those sour pussed twats up their Nazi fucking arseholes, because the vocals are brilliant. They add a whole new level of beauty to the sound and it’s really rewarding to hear someone have the confidence to just come out and do that.

The album starts off with the two tracks that’ve been circling the internet in promotion of the album for the past two months – ‘Leaves Eclipse The Light’ and ‘The Motion Makes Me Last’. Those two, I think, have been the cause of all the commotion. I think they sit apart from the rest of the album as they feature quite a bit more acoustic instrumentation and they have more of a ‘pop’ structure to them. The album then delves lovingly into more ‘droney’ songs, which I think starts a really nice stroll down towards the end of the album. Maybe that’s a strange way to think about it – I certainly don’t mean it in a negative way – it really is just a nice touch of balance.

Since seeing Eluvium support Explosions in the Sky back in ’07 I’ve been smitten with most things ambient/experimental/post-rock. I can’t honestly wait to feel the power of those sub-woofers make my insides bleed and turn my eardrums to pulp again. Cooper’s live performance is mainly made up of layers and layers of guitar pushed and pushed through loads of effects and his laptop. It’s pretty cool.

Similes has pretty much been the soundtrack to my life over the past wee while, since getting my naughty copy from the interwebs… I will buy a proper copy as soon as I have a chance, promise. It’s the first thing out in quite a while that’s really affected me emotionally and I think that might be an important thing to mention while writing this. I was listening to the song ‘Cease To Know’ a few nights ago while driving back from Dundee crossing the Forth and it was seriously beautiful. I think that this album really does do so much, well it does for me, and I hope that it does for others too.

Eluvium – The Motion Makes Me Last

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Eluvium – Cease to Know

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Toadcast #110 – The Pervcast

You know, I’m not exactly naive when it comes to the internet.  I’ve done perfectly innocent Google image searches at work and then hurriedly had to cover up or stove in my monitor as all manner of filth made its appearance, irrespective of the tame nature of the search terms.

So I was up quite late recording this podcast and because only pervs and loonies seem to be up late* using the internet I reckoned that this should be called the Pervcast.  Particularly as I recorded most of it with a glass of wine in one hand and my nuts in the other – hey, it’s just comfortable alright, stop being so judgmental.

Anyhow, the minute I hit return on the search for a banner image for this Toadcast… well, I realised my mistake pretty much immediately.  I didn’t even realise most of that shit was even physically possible, never mind sought after.  Yeauch.  You internet people – you’re all wrong ‘uns, that’s what you are!

Toadcast #110 – The Pervcast

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01. The Silver Columns – Brow Beaten (04.50)
02. The Morning Benders – Promises (14.10)
03. Inspector Tapehead – Pherenzik Tear (17.10)
04. Amanaz – Khala My Friend (28.15)
05. The Tim & Sam Band – Choices (34.57)
06. Japandroids – Art Czars (48.24)
07. Waskerley Way – Yonder (52.19)
08. Fire Engines – Get Up and Use Me (56.32)
09. Patrick Bower & the World Without Magic – One Day Soon, I Will Break You (58.37)
10. Woozy Viper – Whoah, Baby! (66.12)

*Yes, I know, it was made up for (faintly) comical purposes – fuck off.

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So Where Does Actual Culture Belong, These Days?

So, erm, BBC 6Music seems to be closing, does it?  Well, firstly, let’s be clear on the fact that this is yet to be confirmed – in a rather strange turn of events even the BBC couldn’t find anyone from the BBC willing to comment.  Maybe it’s boycotting itself, in the Alex Ferguson style.

Anyhow, these reports originate from The Times, who are part of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp media dinosaur who are themselves splashing about rather desperately in the ocean of free content, harried by internetters on one hand and the Beeb on the other.  So until this is actually confirmed by a credible source, I’d hold back on the histrionics a little – which is why I have yet to cover this month-old rumour until now as it is.

Still, it worries me because it’s part of a wider trend which I find rather scary at the moment: entertainment holding increasing sway over culture.

Of course, any fan of painting, sculpture, poetry, classical music or anything like that will tell you that this is just the same as it ever was and that basically it’s just our turn now for a change, and that they’ve had this problem for years.  If anything is killing the music industry, for example, it’s the fucking vacant populism of the X-Factor, it ain’t the internet.

Anyhow, late last year the Metro closed their regional arts offices, basically swinging the axe on some of the best local arts coverage in the UK.  Culture, simply, isn’t all that commercially viable.  But the Beeb themselves seem to have little idea what they are there for to begin with.  Why the fuck did they start trying to compete with reality TV?  Why the fuck did they foist the likes of George Lamb on 6Music and basically date-rape the daytime schedule?  Well the answer to the latter question is that apparently Lesley Douglas thinks that women are fucking idiots, but the whole thing speaks of general confusion as to what the BBC is actually supposed to do.

Tax is there to pay for things which commercial concerns will not cover, and to provide accountability to the public which commercial practises do not.  The Beeb is pretty clearly covered by the first, but it has slowly but surely been forgetting its remit and trying to compete with commercial channels on their terms.  6Music only costs £7m a year to run (just over a third of Wossy’s wages), and if they wanted to cut costs they could simply fire their fucking dreadful daytime celebrity presenters and return the station to the specialists for whom it was originally intended.  This mission creep has left it falling between two stools to a considerable degree

Mrs. Toad said to me once that you used to become famous by being on the radio, but nowadays the only way you got on the radio was by being famous to begin with.  This is patently not the Beeb’s job – they are there to ensure that all are represented, not just the most famous.  There is a sizeable audience for alternative music outside the Brits and Q fodder who represent the dismal indie mainstream, but the routes to success for small bands are continually being cut off by commercial pressures.

The problem with this is that in craving larger audiences the Beeb destroys the USP of the station, and risks turning it into XFM.  The trick is not to neuter your individuality by craving the mainstream, it is to accept what you are and budget accordingly.  If (and it is still an if, remember) 6Music goes then the BBC are essentially abandoning all pretense of supporting the development of alternative music culture in the UK.  Radio One is too populist, Radio Two too cautious, and therefore that will be pretty much the end of one of the most important points of access to their audience which existed for emerging musicians in Britain.

Or, to put it another way, how the fuck are any of us going to get our music out there now?  The States has already seen this happen, as print media failed completely and Clearchannel hoovered up and then euthanised all commercial radio, until all that was left was the blogs.  And inasmuch as I like blogs, I feel I need to stress the point that this is not a good thing.

However, there is a note or two of optimism to be struck.  As the major record labels have discovered, scrambling towards the lowest common denominator with such desperation leaves a void behind you which can eventually reach such critical mass that it swallows you up.  If the Beeb is abandoning the alternative to this extent, all it does it leave that space open for amateurs like us, and eventually they run the risk of making themselves so culturally irrelevant that they will lose their right to participate altogether and will have effectively ceded everything which makes them special to the rest of us.

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Friday Wants Some Free Vinyl, Thank You

Welcome to this week’s Friday Fives, when we all choose the winners of the Communion Compilation Competition.  Those of you interested in this sort of thing will know that this competition is to win a copy of this lovely album, featuring all sorts of alt-folk (or whatever) royalty who have performed at the eponymous London club night run by a Mumford and a Cherbourg.

So, simple, please just list your favourite hipster photo from the following five examples, which I have chosen as being the best of all the submissions I received.  The top three will win a copy of the album on vinyl, and therefore be extremely pleased with themselves.

1. Erm, where do you think you are conquering, exactly?

2. Erm, shorts, manbag, some sort of peculiar shoe-related contraptions, yep, that’s just a tad too hip for me.

3. Erm, how many beads and how plunging a neckline are required to make you a total penis?  Ah yes, that many.

4. This man doesn’t think he’s cool, he is cool!

5. Hey!  Stand up and play yer fucking tunes you fuckers!

So, please de-lurk, have a chuckle at our chosen hipsters and then cast your votes.  There will be more silly questions than that of course, but the ‘which plonker makes you laugh the most’ question is currently by far the most pressing!

1. List the above pictures in order of preferred hipsters.
2. Name your most productive hipster-finding location.
3. At which age was your hipster peak (no matter how low)?
4. Give the fucking bastard cunting Beeb are closing 6Music, what the fuck radio stations are there left to listen to?
5. Please lay out your Friday drinking strategy.

And now here are some Edinburgh bands who you might not think of as Edinburgh bands, most of whom (except Aberfeldy of course) you might not think of as being Edinburgh bands.

Aberfeldy – Tom Weir

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Idlewild – When the Ship Comes In

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Helicopter Girl – Cry Mississippi

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Finley Quaye – Ultra Stimulation

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Lucky Jim – Our Troubles End Tonight

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Paul Simon – Songs From the Capeman

I was talking a friend the other night and I think I may have found the only other person in the world who likes this album.  After the impact made by Graceland, Paul Simon’s career seemed to come to an abrupt halt in rather spectacular fashion when it ran into the brick wall of Rhythm of the Saints.  Maybe he slightly over-egged the pudding, maybe he wasn’t disciplined enough after the success of Graceland, maybe he had too many pre-conceived notions of what he wanted to achieve… ach whatever the reason, the album just didn’t click with the public, and that was it from Paul Simon for years.

Rhythm of the Saints didn’t really click with me either, I have to confess, so by the time Songs From the Capeman was released in 1997 I will admit approaching it with some trepidation.  It barely made a scratch on the public consciousness, but I actually think this is a great album.

Simon works a lot in an area which is politically sensitive, in that he is often more obviously open to the accusations of cultural colonialism which dog Vampire Weekend.  For all the Lion King charicatures of their last album irritated the shit out of me, I think Vampire Weekend tend to draw their influences not from the cultures from which they are accused of pilfering, but from sources once and twice removed, which makes that accusation a little harder to seriously level at the band.  Paul Simon, on the other hand, seems to go a lot closer to the source, which if anything is also closer to what could conceivably be described as actual exploitation.

Am I accusing Paul Simon of being exploitative, then?  Well, no I’m not.  I am not Puerto Rican, and know so little about the place that it’s really not my accusation to make anyway.  And besides Simon does, at least from my superficial perspective, seem to genuinely immerse himself in the culture he is working with, and try and approach his work from the perspective of genuine understanding.  I could be totally wrong about that, of course.

This album, for example, far from being a tourists’ eye view of some ethnic culture or other, was actually written for a Broadway musical* specifically about the life of Salvador Agron, who was sentenced to death for the murder of two teenagers in a gang fight in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, in 1959.  So as well as being a strong and deliberate political statement about racial divides and class culture in the States (as well as many other things), it does seem to me to be a genuinely sensitive attempt to understand, rather than simply mimick.  As I said, though, that’s really not my place to say.  You can read a little more about it, starting with those Wikipedia links, and then judge for yourself if you are so inclined.

So political bollocks aside, is it any good?  Well of course, I think so or I wouldn’t be writing this.  There are, admittedly a couple of songs which I find saccharine to the point of physical pain – I Was Born in Puerto Rico springs to mind, and I really squirm at Time is an Ocean – but there’s a shitload of great stuff on here.

The two songs downloadable below, Bernadette, Satin Summer Nights, Trailways Bus, Quality, Killer Wants to Go to College – all of them have a laid back, uninsistent sort of vibe and a nice rhythm.  A lot also include the kind of male-female duets which made Calexico’s Roka so incredible.  I suppose I’d say that there’s just a lot of warmth about this album.  It’s written with sympathy, but doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the situation it describes.  There’s no obvious hit, and it’s all perhaps a bit sweary and generally a bit downbeat for radio, so maybe that contributed to it never really capturing the public imagination, but in general I think this is a really underrated record.

Paul Simon – Adios Hermanos

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Paul Simon – Vampires

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*Yeah, because Broadway’s never exploitative, superficial or sensationalist, right?  Oh.

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King Post Kitsch

Well well well, this is extremely good indeed.  King Post Kitsch is an exiled Weegie currently residing in London, and was recommended to me by Lloyd from Peenko.  I’ve been a little slow on that count, I suppose, because everyone and their blogger seems to have been chattering about this EP for a while now actually, but er… well, you know how it goes around these parts.

It’s hard to really describe this music for some reason, even though what you hear isn’t exactly going to confuse or shock you.  There only seem to be three songs to be found anywhere, all from an EP which is free to download from their Bandcamp page, and whilst they all hold together as a group, they really are all quite different as well.

Alaska starts out as a rolling ramble, pinned down with brief interruptions of guitar, and slapped around by a scuzzy synth headache which could as easily be My Bloody Valentine as it could Grizzly Bear.  Move on and Modern Times is stumbling, stop-start drunkard, all thumped piano keys and discordant guitar.  Then, after all this, Fante’s Last Stand is peculiar falsetto dream, with its plucked refrain and splashes of (presumably digital) glockenspiel bordering on both the twee and the macabre.

It’s short, and there’s not much to go on here, but this is a really fucking excellent little EP and I am really looking forward to where this may go – very, very promising.

King Post Kitsch – Alaska

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Clem Snide – The Meat of Life

This, a little like Eels’ last album, is going to be a slightly difficult one for me to review, because my relationship with The Meat of Life is about my relationship with an entire back catalogue and the last ten years of my life, rather than just my relationship to a single album of new Clem Snide songs.

Musically, Clem Snide pretty much stopped surprising me with End of Love, back in 2005 or so.  That was a great album, but it wasn’t particularly varied in texture, and took me a long time to get into.  Eef Barzelay’s phenomenal solo debut, Bitter Honey, stripped everything back to the barest of bones, but his follow up, and subsequent Clem Snide stuff has been very uniform of pace and mood.

That sounds like a criticism, and I suppose it is, in the sense that I can’t imagine someone who is new to Clem Snide being as excited by this album as I was by Your Favourite Music and Ghost of Fashion.  Given that it’s not exactly riff- or hook-heavy music, which is the most common fall-back position for bands with a very straightforward sound, you could be forgiven for finding their recent stuff a bit stodgy and lacking in a certain spark, I suppose.

That probably sounds like an almighty slagging off to deliver about an album which I actually like an awful lot, but I suppose I’m just trying to say this: I can understand people finding this musically very plain vanilla, and in a sense I would agree, but that’s not really why I think Clem Snide have been one of the best bands on the planet for the last ten years, and why I go back again and again to listen to their music.

It’s not just the obvious stuff: that the lyrics are fucking brilliant.  Barzelay does have an inspired way with the language – cutting and sympathetic at the same time; devastated and yet bitterly amused; vulnerable and defiant – but I think it might be the actual delivery which does it for me.  Because for all the music may not offer a lot of innovation in the way it is put together, it does put across the emotion of the songwriting with tremendous impact.  I don’t know many bands who can make you feel what they are feeling with anything like the clarity and compulsion of Clem Snide.

Songs like BFF, Denver and Please are as good as anything these guys have written, and Song For Mary, for all it sounds like a song they’re already recorded half a dozen times already, still has that ability to take exactly what the song is trying to express and just embed it directly into your psyche.  There may be a couple of songs on this which I’m not so keen on, and particularly if you’re new to the band it may take you a while to get into, but this really is a very good record.

Clem Snide – Denise

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Clem Snide – Denver

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Make the Vrrrroosh Noises

I think it’s one of my favourite things about Star Wars – or indeed anything – that Ewan McGregor had to be told to stop making the Vrrroosh noises during filming for The Phantom Menace (see here, towards the end of the first section).

There’s something about that pointless little factoid which makes me giggle, pretty much every time I remember it.  Partly, it makes McGregor himself seem like one of us.  He’s already talked about how starstruck he was to be involved with the Star Wars films in the first place, but it’s one thing to say it, and quite another to have your childish glee hung out there for all to see.  I know nothing about McGregor at all, actually, but I don’t think I want to know anything beyond that one fact, because it makes him something of a hero to me, honestly. I can just imagine the weary voices of the crew every time he did it as well – that dragged out, two-syllable admonishment pronunciation of his name: “Yoo-WUN, fucksake.”

Vrrroosh! You tool!  Brilliant.

In other news, Jesus H. Foxx have a couple of demos up from their recent recording escapades. These can be downloaded from their new blog, and enjoyed with a cup of tea and a nice biscuit.

And in yet more hilarious news, Parliament has finally realised that all this money Prince Charles and his band of deluded halfwits insist we spend on homeopathy is basically a total waste of everyone’s fucking time.  I tend to think of the National Lottery as a tax on the inability to do basic statistics, and homeopathy is very similar, in that it is at root simply a tax on ignorance.

Basically, there are no ingredients in homeopathic remedies, and they have been repeatedly shown to do absolutely nothing at all.  If you buy them, you are being scammed, pure and simple.  Like a great many religous beliefs it is easy to wave your hands and ignore it and pass it off with tolerant statements like ‘oh it does no harm’, but it does.  Homeopathy is harmless enough in most circumstances, I would agree… unless you are actually suffering from something.  If you actually have a disease then this sort of childish nonsense actually does have plenty of potential to cause real harm.  Certainly the placebo effect is powerful, so simply believing that you are being given medicine can have a strong benefit, even if you aren’t, but there are two very serious consequences which result from failing to challenge this sort of mumbo-jumbo.

Firstly, it distances us from the real world, from observable, actual effects, and things which actually happen.  It damages our ability to actually do good and to progress medicine and to heal people, because that only happens when we study and test medicine using controlled, randomised, double-blind trials, and then throw out the shit which doesn’t work.  Giving charlatans who peddle no more than wishful thinking some sort of hocus-pocus shield to hide behind gives large pharmaceutical companies the same get out of jail free card as well.  Most of the people who sell you all this alternative bobbins are actually owned by large pharma companies anyway and, frankly, published, peer-reviewed and controlled trials are the only defence any of us has against their avarice.  It’s also the only defence we have against wishful thinking, and against the flaws of what we humans rather vainly call our common sense.  Or, to put it another way, it’s the only way to tell if something actually fucking works.

Secondly, the more money we waste on shit which simply doesn’t do anything, such as homeopathy, the less we have to spend on employing doctors and nurses, buying actual medicine and other trivial little things like that.  Money is a precious commodity in the NHS, and it’s one thing for some idiotic middle-class fuckwit to waste their own money on nicely shaken bottles of water and sugar pills, but it isn’t just their own money which they are wasting.

I would agree with a lot of the critiques of modern medicine, most obviously its corruption by the large companies who seek to profit from its exploitation, but if you think that in any way invalidates its achievements then you are quite simply an idiot.  Do you really want to go back to a time when life expectancy was about fortyish and when a simple dental problem could kill you?  Do you want Polio back?  How about Smallpox?  Fucking idiots.

So, from Ewan McGregor making the Vrrroosh noise, to new Jesus H. Foxx songs, to homepaths finally being told to fuck off back to playschool, all in a single post.  I have a hangover, and I need a sandwich.

Star Wars Theme

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Toad on Fresh Air – 22nd February 2010

Once more we get to Fresh Air time, and this week I have a splendidly hot off the press mp3 from the new New Pornogrgaphers album.  It arrived in my inbox just as I was getting ready to leave work, so you can’t get much more news-whorish than that!

For the rest of the show, however, I am going to take a slightly different tack to the usual indie-folk, or whatever you want to call it.  I have some Dusty Springfield, some Nicole Atkins, some Bettye Swan and even some Dionne Warwick just because erm… well no reason really, it just struck my fancy when I was picking songs for the playlist in all honesty.

Live on Air 8pm-9.30pm – Listen live here.

I’ll fill in the playlist live below from 8pm onwards, so feel free to leave feedback, constructive criticism, mindless abuse, etc in the comments during the show.

01. Dionne Warwick- I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself
02. Joanna Newsom- On a Good Day
03. Grand National- Boner
04. Hot Lava- The Auctioneer
05. Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose- 3 Knife
06. Dusty Springfield- Don’t Forget About Me
07. The Come Ons- Strangelove
08. The Morning Benders- Excuses
09. Mountain Man- Honeybee
10. Nicole Atkins- Brooklyn’s On Fire
11. Scott Walker- The Girls And The Dogs
12. Kate & Anna McGarrigle- Love Over and Over
13. New Pornographers- Your Hands Together
14. Lissie- Everywhere I Go
15. Morrissey- You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side
16. The Tallest Man On Earth- King of Spain
17. Vampire Weekend- White Sky

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Live in Edinburgh This Week – 22nd February 2010

So more sold-outy stuff this week, with Johnny Flynn already inaccessible at Cabaret Voltaire on Friday.  I am actually going to interview him for the site, but I think I might have forgotten to include a guestie on my request, so I may have to hide in the toilets after the interview to avoid being thrown out for lack of a ticket.

This is the last week for the Communion Compilation Competition as well.  By the end of the week I will pick the best pictures of hipsters being extremely hip and we shall have a public vote on the Friday Fives, with the winners getting their hand on a splendid twin vinyl 12″ compilation of performances from the Communion night, run by Ben from Mumford and Sons and Kevin from Cherbourg.  Just email me your extremely hip persons to songbytoad at hotmail.co.uk

Monday 22nd February 2010: Xiu Xiu, Meursault & the Foundling Wheel at Electric Circus.

I know more about this gig from the general excitement of the Meursault lads than any real knowledge I myself have of Xiu Xiu, which is minimal.  Still, they may well be playing a lot of new songs, so those of you wanting a taste of what’s to come on the new album could do a lot worse than pop along to the Electric Circus tonight.

Wednesday 24th February 2010: The Soft Pack, Banjo or Freakout & William Douglas at Cabaret Voltaire.

The Soft Pack first came to my attention as The Muslims a year or two ago, and I’ve been sort of lazily following them ever since.  This is basically old school, garagey indie-rock, but when they nail it with a killer melody, which they are capable of doing then it’s very good indeed.  They can be inconsistent, I have to confess, but I’m really looking forward to seeing them live.

The Soft Pack – Extinction

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Thursday 25th February 2010: Golden Ghost, Thomas Truax & George Thomas at the Wee Red Bar.

This is a really varied lineup, and well worth coming along to.  Golden Ghost is just plain lovely, and whilst I’ve never seen George Thomas with the Owls, I have seen him solo and he was one of these guys who seemed to make a virtue out of being quite shy, with self deprecating wit helping to put across the warm personality of his music.  Thomas Truax is an SL Records staple, and his self-made musical machines have to be seen to be believed – they’re pretty much worth the price of admission on their own.

Golden Ghost – Small Metal Objects

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Friday 26th February 2010: Forest Creatures, Cheer, Fordell Research Unit and King Rib at Henry’s Cellar Bar.

I know pretty much nothing about this lineup, apart from what you can tell from a very quick skim of the respective MySpace pages.  Because a lot of this is quite slow-build stuff I can’t tell you much beyond the fact that Fordell Research Unit in particular sounded rather interesting, so if you’re looking for something slightly off the beaten track this week, this might be a good bet.